From interactive prototyping tools to innovative project management methods, these essential tools and tips will ensure success in your next software development project.
Managing digital projects is no walk in the park. When managing software development projects, project managers are tasked with handling the project’s scope and budget, directing the design and development team, working between development team and clients, and delivering a digital product on time and on spend. And with 90% of businesses worldwide predicted to up investment on mobile app development in 2016, the role played by project managers in digital development is only set to grow.
So how do project managers ensure they leverage all the resources out there and become fully equipped to deliver top quality software development projects? From helpful prototyping tools to creative project management methodologies, we’ve rounded up some helpful tips and tools to ensure success in your next software development project.
Waterfall or Agile? Choose your development methodology
The first step towards pulling off an outstanding software development project is choosing which methodology you want to apply. While trends may change and some approaches gain traction (think Agile right now), more traditional methods may be applicable in your current project. The Waterfall approach, for example, may be considered a little static for the iterative nature of software development, but it does have upsides: the full scope of work is a known quantity from the start of the project; requirements are fixed early on; and the end-product can be designed with an eye on agreed upon requirements. So Waterfall might work for you if you’re juggling several software elements at the same time.
If you adopt an Agile development methodology, you’ll be using an iterative approach and using interactive prototypes to continually respond to stakeholder and user feedback. For a project manager, this means you’ll approach even early stage prototypes as if they were part of the end-product: prototypes should be built on and learned from, rather than thrown away after the initial stages. Using the agile approach means mistakes and misunderstandings are caught early on, and stakeholders feel a greater sense of engagement with your software, which means they’re more likely to be invested in the project both emotionally and financially.
Prototype early and often
Prototyping from the early stages of your project can be crucial to success, particularly if you’re using an agile development methodology. In fact, we recommend using the full gamut of prototypes at different stages of your project: present paper wireframes to potential users in the very early stages of user testing, leverage a static mockup when brainstorming the software with developers and fellow project managers, create a high fidelity prototype with a prototyping tool like Justinmind when you’re nearing the final stages and want to impress your clients or boss.
Plus, you can also use your prototyping tool to gather and management requirements, eradicating the need for hefty text-based documentation that makes it hard for clients to get on board with your software solution.
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Use tools to keep the techies in the loop
As project manager, one of your most important tasks is keeping your various team on the same page and motivated (not to mention keeping the clients happy!). Problems between the IT and business teams can arise all too easily due to faulty communications, too much jargon or lack of clearly defined objectives. Remember, your internal design and development team will most likely include designers, developers, business analysts, user testers and other team members – all technical profiles who need direction and management to achieve common goals. A good PM can be the linchpin for a successful development team. Luckily, there are some great project management tools out there to help project managers overcome these miscommunications – tools such as Basecamp can keep everyone informed about project progress, while newer softwares like Slack promote team communication and sharing even if your team is spread over different locations.
Read our interview with Basecamp Product Designer Jonas Downey here!
Accept that in a month anything could happen
Justin James gives some valuable perspective into how tough it can be managing software development projects. Most saliently, he advises project managers to take accept that they won’t be able to timeline everything out.
Project managers who honestly think they know what pieces of functionality any given developer will be working on more than a month or two out (unless it is a very large, broad piece of functionality) are likely to be disappointed and mistaken. Software development is just too unpredictable.
Software development projects certainly can be volatile, and it’s all too easy to plan timings way too far into the future, or to plan stages in too-large chunks of time. To avoid time management issues, break your project down into bite-size chunks, and then examine how long each action within that chunk will take your team. By building up from the basics in this way you’ll avoid basing your timeframes on pure conjecture and will be able to give clients a much more realistic picture of when each stage will reach completion. Your team will thank you for it too.
Use and learn from your own original data
For every software development project you manage, it’s advisable to collect and preserve all the data you can for future reference. Data on schedule, cost and quality can give you valuable insights into strengths and weaknesses in your methodology, you can set SMART goals for future improvements, and you can be more realistic with client expectations on your next project. Measuring factors such as how long the project actually took (as compared to your predictions), reworks, defects detected, and eventual outcomes will strengthen your project management process for the next time.
Software development projects require high-level planning if they’re going to be successful. But by choosing a valid development methodology, using prototyping tools to gather and manage requirements, exploiting available project management tools to facilitate communication and team motivation, prototyping early and often and measuring data as you work, you’ll have a better chance of pulling off great software development projects on time, all the time.
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